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March 14, 2011

Book Review: A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink

by aliciaarnold

A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future

In this nonfiction work geared towards a business audience, Pink argues the age of “left-brain” dominance is giving way to “right-brain” thinkers whose minds are more akin to designers, inventors, teachers and storytellers than lawyers and MBA’s. With the coming of what Pink refers to as the Conceptual Age, the future is in the hands of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers – those who are skilled at tapping into the brain’s right hemisphere. To succeed in the coming era, Pink highlights six essential aptitudes termed “the six senses” that will define professional success and personal satisfaction including: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink, Riverhead Trade, 2006 Paperback, 288 pp. ISBN 1594481717, $15.00


The first chapter of A Whole New Mind opens with the importance of engaging both the left-brain (sequential, textual, literal, analytic, and logical) and the right-brain (simultaneous, contextual, metaphorical, aesthetic, and affective). Pink argues, while the past prized L-Directed, or left-brain thinking, R-Directed, or right-brain thinking, will become more dominant in the future. He cites abundance, Asia and automation as reasons.

With plentitude, or abundance, societies have begun to search for more – more beauty, spirituality, and emotion. Competition based on price and functionality has been commoditized. To win, companies are differentiating based on “the aesthetic imperative,” or beauty, uniqueness and meaningfulness. The aesthetic imperative is supported by Fixton (2009) who stated, “Successful products and services simultaneously delight customers, are affordable and are available on time” (p. 200).

As far as the effects of Asia, knowledge workers are a mainstay in developing countries giving rise to L-Directed competition from emerging economies. Low wages pave the way for outsourcing and a lower premium for L-Directed Thinking. Pink believes R-Directed abilities, like the ability to forge relationships and to tackle novel challenges, will become more meaningful as L-Directed Thinking is commoditized.

Lastly, in terms of automation, Pink views it as another detractor of L-Directed Thinking. His underlying assumption highlights many tasks once performed by humans are now performed by machines.

In Pink’s eyes, the evolution from the 18th century Agriculture Age (farmers), to 19th century Industrial Age (factory workers), to 20th century Information Age (knowledge workers) will give rise to the 21st century Conceptual Age (creators and empathizers). To succeed in the Conceptual Age, Pink believes we will need to complement our L-Directed reasoning with six, essential R-Directed aptitudes:

  • Design – stretching beyond the creation of a functional product, service, experience or lifestyle to create something that is beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging
  • Story – going beyond data to persuade, communicate and create self-understanding by creating a compelling narrative
  • Symphony – seeing the big picture and figuring out how to combine disparate pieces into a new whole
  • Empathy – understanding other people’s perspective and responding with emotional intelligence
  • Play – seizing the health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games and humor
  • Meaning – moving beyond material plenty to pursuing purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfillment

Pink uses vivid examples and case studies to build the argument for each aptitude. From GM to the Charter High School for Architecture and Design, A Whole New Mind weaves a rich tapestry of data and artifacts to support R-Directed Thinking. The examples are plentiful, particularly in the portfolio chapters, which are geared towards showing readers how to build personal competency in each aptitude. In particular, one example Pink used to demonstrate Symphony, attributed to Barbara Edwards’, was particularly useful in helping to deepen and extend my personal understanding of Symphony.


I found A Whole New Mind a quick and rewarding read. In particular, the portfolios were packed with ideas for exercising the right-brain. Pink’s self-portrait inspired me to borrow a copy of Barbara Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain DVD from the library and give drawing a whirl. As predicted, Edwards’ methods of engaging the right-brain to create Symphony, helped hone my nascent pencil scratches into recognizable sketches.

As a student of creativity and advocate for right-brain thinking, I truly hope and wish Pink’s predictions come true. Although there is great merit in Pink’s argument for R-Directed Thinking, some of the examples are dated.  In particular, the example about GM being in the art business as a way of turning around the automaker is riddled with holes given its recent bankruptcy.

One way Pink could have created more substance for R-Directed Thinking would have been to cite work on the creative class or creative economy. References to Richard Florida’s work on the creative class ( would have strengthened the case for R-Directed Thinking. As Peters (2009) wrote, “In its rawest form ,the notion of the creative economy emerges from a set of claims that suggest that the industrial economy is giving way to the creative economy based on the growing power of ideas and virtual value chain” (p. 45). Peters’ definition bears resemblance to Pink’s Conceptual Age and could provided additional evidence for R-Directed Thinking.


A Whole New Mind offers readers an explanation of how abundance, Asia and automation are giving rise to R-Directed Thinking and how each of us can build valuable right-brain skills. Whether the 6 aptitudes of Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning are the exact aptitudes for the future, it is clear there is a pattern forming and case building for R-Directed Thinking. Pink’s work builds upon the body of knowledge around the creative economy and is written such that the mass market is able to grasp the concept garnering greater reach and awareness for the field of creativity. Citing work on the creative class or creative economy would help Pink add further fuel to his argument.


Fixton, S. K. (2009) Teaching innovation through interdisciplinary courses and programmes in product design and development: An analysis at 16 US schools. Creativity and Innovation Management, 18 (3), 199-208.

Peters, M. A. (2009) Education, creativity and the economy of passions: New forms of educational capitalism. Thesis Eleven, 96, 40-63.


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